When a Pittsburgh police vice detective arranged a meeting at a hotel with two young women, including a teen runaway, he set in motion a federal human trafficking case -- exceedingly rare in Western Pennsylvania -- that on Thursday provided a rare look into a sordid world.
William C. Miller, 38, of the Hill District picked up a 15-year-old, kept her in his home and marketed and transported her as a prostitute, assistant U.S. attorney Jessica Lieber Smolar said at his plea hearing. After city Detective Joseph Ryczaj arrested the teenager, an adult female prostitute and Miller, the youth "advised [police] that Miller set the price for her appointments, took half of the money and provided her with condoms and alcohol for the appointments," Ms. Smolar said.
Miller signed a plea agreement under which he will serve 12 years in prison, followed by five years of probation. In return for the plea, federal prosecutors dropped two charges of production of child pornography that were driven by photos and a video found on his phone and those of the teenager, in which she was seen performing sex acts on him.
The plea was a win for an 8-year-old Western Pennsylvania Human Trafficking Coalition, which seeks to bust traffickers and help their victims.
"Since the inception of our coalition and its focus on human trafficking, this was our first plea under the federal law for sex trafficking," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Brad Orsini.
When Detective Ryczaj called a telephone number listed in an adult/escort section of the Backpage Pittsburgh website in February 2012, the teenager answered the phone. She agreed to a meeting involving herself and another woman at a hotel for $300, plus tips, according to court documents.
The detective met the teenager, the adult woman and Miller at an Oakland hotel. When the price was finalized, he called in backup.
The teenager said she had been working with Miller for two months, since he plucked her from a bus station. Much of Miller's plea hearing focused on who recruited whom.
Miller told U.S. District Judge Donetta W. Ambrose he didn't know the youth's age and didn't lure her into prostitution.
"I met her," he said. "She was a prostitute."
She and an adult woman "were working for some guy," Miller said. "They told me what they was doing and that I could make some money. I was to protect. I was security."
After the hearing, Miller's brother, Romir Miller, said that an unemployed man like his brother, presented with an offer to work as security for a prostitute, "is going to look at that as an opportunity to make some money."
Miller's formal sentencing is set for March 27, but Judge Ambrose said she agrees to the stipulated 12-year prison term.
Mr. Orsini said the coalition, Pittsburgh police and Moon police are working hard to find minors in the underworld.
"We've opened up cases and we continue gathering intelligence in an attempt to find child prostitutes, which we have found," he said. He urged anyone with information on child prostitution to call the FBI at 412-432-4122.
Mary Burke, a Carlow University psychology professor who runs the coalition, said that the prosecutable human trafficking cases are the minority.
"We work with folks who aren't necessarily interested in going through with the prosecutorial process, and never get that far," she said.
The coalition has provided food, housing, immigration status help, health care and mental health counseling for around 45 people who were pressed into prostitution or illegal labor, some of whom hail from as far as Guatemala and Thailand.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published October 17, 2013 7:34 AM